Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Belief

Mary Offered as Guide for Synod Fathers

By Bishop Béchara Raï

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 15, 2010 ( We greet you again from the Vatican. On Thursday morning, in the presence of His Holiness Benedict XVI, the synod fathers continued their interventions. The topics raised were diverse, and the most important one was the freedom of religion and freedom of belief.

Some mentioned that religious freedom in some Arab countries is limited, and that there is no freedom of belief in some others. On this issue, the synod fathers again emphasized the importance of Lebanon, which is a model in the field. In Article IX of its Constitution, Lebanon grants absolute freedom of belief. Individuals choose the religion where he finds himself.

Of course, one cannot change his religion or doctrine just to get something he wants, like a divorce, for example; this would not be an example of religious freedom, nor freedom of belief. Therefore we hope that, following the example of Christians and Muslims who live in Lebanon with respect for freedom of religion and freedom of belief, this conviction will permeate the Arab countries.

There was a talk on Christian hope, following the example of the first Christian community. Christians, despite all the difficulties and trials and persecutions, and all the problems they face in the countries of the Middle East, have to continue in their own land to live their mission and live the Christian life faithfully. This is how Christianity began and then spread to the whole world. Christians should remember that they are invited to continue this mission, that they give hope and meaning to existence, meaning to life in the Arab world.

We focused on the media and its role in spreading the Gospel. Media cannot be an external tool, filled with only technology, but rather with good content. Therefore journalists should serve the mission, the service, of objective truth. On a religious level, there is the need to form the clergy to make good use of the media to convey the message. The media is not just the technology, it is culture, new language, a new approach, building bridges between peoples.

New evangelization

The synod fathers also discussed the new evangelization, and that means being able to convey the message of the Gospel of salvation in a new language and a new style and with a fresh approach, to get out of the ordinary and conventional means, because the world has changed today. Therefore, we need to evangelize with a new style and a new way of thinking.

The spotlight was also on the monastic life, the life of hermits, the contemplative life. In Lebanon, we are happy that we have hermits even today. One of the hermits of Lebanon is St. Charbel, and today we have two hermits in the Maronite church. The hermit who lives in a hermitage in meditation and prayer and austerity is a support for the Church. That is why the fathers insisted on preserving Kadisha Valley, the valley of saints, to be the center of light for our Arab countries.

The meeting ended today with a speech by Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, a big friend of the East. He said to us, while looking the image of the Virgin Mary: You are the magi who came looking for Jesus. Go back from this synod and the Virgin Mary will be your star. Go back to the East and bring with you the mystery of Christ Redeemer.

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Bishop Béchara Raï is the Catholic Maronite bishop of Jbeil, Lebanon, and the president of the episcopal commission for communications in Lebanon. He is currently a participant in the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, and is writing a daily briefing for ZENIT’s Arabic edition.

[Translated from Arabic by ZENIT]

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